National Security

US officials see security risks in China’s space advances 

Guo Zhongzheng/Xinhua via Associated Press

China gaining the upper hand in space could pose an existential threat to U.S. national security, officials said at the U.S. Space Force Association’s ‘Lasso the Moon’ conference in Houston on Monday. 

“Whoever leads in space sets the rules. And I for one don’t want the Chinese Communist Party setting our rules,” said Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas), who attended the conference virtually due to a weeklong illness.

The U.S., China and Russia have for years been jostling for power in space. China has recently teaming up with Russia for a slate of space missions and initiatives, including plans for a research base on the moon. 

China is also anticipated to send an expedition to the moon by 2024, which would beat U.S. plans to land by 2025.

“Bottom line, we cannot give up our American presence in LEO [low-Earth orbit]. I am not interested in ceding any more turf to other states, or worse, to adversarial nations like China,” said Babin. “China is a problem, and the more they prioritize space, the more of a problem they will become.”

A recent white paper from China indicated plans to complete its space station by the end of this year. Beijing is also expected to launch as many as 40 space flights this year alone. 

China also reportedly called the U.S. irresponsible after a recent near-miss between China’s space station and two of Elon Musk’s SpaceX satellites. 

The U.S. still dominates the space landscape, but “if we fall victim to partisanship gains, our leadership will erode over time,” Babin said. 

Lt. Gen. Chance Saltzman, the Space Force’s deputy chief of operations, nuclear and cyber, bolstered Babin’s point about the intersection of space exploration and national security, drawing a parallel with the current information war around Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  

“If you do not have control of space and cyber, forget about Taiwan. If you do not own the information space, forget about Ukraine,” Saltzman said during his speech at Monday’s event. 

“If we are reactive in space for cyber domains, we are going to fail. We just don’t have the luxury of time to recover. And so we have to be ahead of this power curve,” Saltzman added.

Saltzman urged the audience to look at how the U.S. has wielded control of the information space against Russia as an example of how non-military arenas can shape geopolitical power. 

After fierce competition between the Soviet Union and the U.S. in the 1970s space race, Washington and Moscow have taken a collaborative approach to their work on the International Space Station (ISS). 

On Friday, however, Russia’s space agency chief tweeted that Russia could rescind its cooperation on the ISS in response to recent sanctions from the U.S. and its allies over Russian attacks on Ukraine.

Tags Elon Musk Space Force Space race US-China relations
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